Let’s go surfing the Internet. How do we surf? It’s like when you leave home in the morning, do you jump on your bike and zigzag your way across city traffic or rather you get bored queuing up on the ring road?
To surf you need a browser: what type do you use? Firefox, an opensource browser developed by Mozilla , is getting more and more widespread
(http://www.firefox2.com/it/) thanks to its efficiency, which can be improved by integrating it to what is technically defined “extentions”. You can download them from http://addons.mozilla.org/it/firefox/browse/type:1 , and choose among more than two thousand. That’s the result of an informal community of users and developers (an “extension” does not exist actually, but anyone can write free software compatible with Mozilla).
Extensions are small softwares which can be integrated into the browser and be used in plenty of ways; from weather forecast services to browser integrated dictionaries, tools for html development, useful access interfaces to get into the main social software sites, session servers, feed rss management, news readers, widgets, translations, pictures , strumenti per la privacy, strumenti di debugging, etc. The implicit concept all extensions have in common is the possibility to customize and improve one’s surfing and information searching, often from a technological hack point of view: we all know the Internet is neither safe (cookies, scripts, ip logs, information on the users taken during the surfing of the pages), nor clean or ecological (harassing advertisments, animations and videos).
The least ..apparently are those dedicated to information, on line newspapers, news sites, access intefaces to the most widespread mailboxes (unfortunately commercial), usually invaded by the most showy ads. Extensions are powerful means to a more sustainable surfing experience; and they are incredibly successful. Especially those which help us eliminating advertisments, banners and boxes, and everything that makes our reading tiring and distracts our attention from the content (not only unwanted but often annoying).
Adblock Plus is one of those extentions and was downloaded 4 million times since the beginning of 2006, when it was released (now it is downloaded 150 thousand times a month). The previous version was downloaded 8 million times. Those extentions prevent from downloading images and ads and replace them with blank spaces, showing us clean pages as those of the pre-ad Internet age (as we like, of course!). And this is where Eyebeam Openlab ‘s new artistic project starts, a place where artists, technologists and hackers experiment with opensource creativity. The project is the breeding ground for technology and media experimentation, openly oriented towards Public Domain’s improvement, that is to say it is free from the control and interests of copyright laws. The project is financed by a group of foundations, one of which is particularly generous and is provided with an advanced and multidisciplinary technical support (laser, 3d printers, workstations, servers, multimedia devices). As they themselves wrote, they have a noble and ambitious interest within Open Networks, Open Information, Open Content, Open Source, Open Fabrication.
A recent project by Steve Lambert e Evan Harper started from adblocking techniques to reinterpret them from an artistic point of view and add a content to the blank space wich replaces advertisments. The project is called AddArt , an extension which technically behaves like the other adblockers, but replaces advertising images with pieces of art images taken from a selected database. That extension is still under construction but a test version is already available ancora in via di sviluppo ma di cui esiste una versione di prova ( with the clouds taken from MarioBros’ piece of art by Cory Arcangel ); the release of the first version is planned for this summer. The AdBlock developer himself, the Norwegian Wladimir Palant, told a New York Times journalist that “replacing the boring and invasive ads with pleasant images, thus turning them into their opposite, is a coherent continuation of the philosophy according to which AdBlock was invented, to make the web more durable and amusing”.
AddArt has a subversive aspect, which lies beyond the clean blank page with no ads.Not only it eliminates trash, it creates new information too. The authors write on their web site “for many substituting ads with blank images would be enough. AddArt is trying to do something more interesting than just stopping advertisments, it turns a browser into an art gallery “. No more annoying, ads turn into a space wich can be surfed and be potentially interesting and full of meaning. The authors write, “the more ads you surf, the more art you’ll get”… AddArt turns a browser into a digital art gallery where different young curators can be responsible for the choice of the contents and the organization of the show. It creates a space for promoting contemporary art, where different artist communities can gather around this mean which enables them to share their experiences and spread their material.
The project will be supported by an updated site with information on artists and curators and the calendar of the future pasts AddArt Show (that is to say the premiere of what will be showed instead of the advertisments). Every two weeks the show will be changed, with 5/8 artists in rotation; the works of art will randomly replace the ads and hopefully those art fragments will be showed on many people’s desktops ( if AddArt caught 5% of AdBlock’s present users it would be already hundreds of thousands users ). This project is interesting not only as an artistic example of social software interpretation. It can be seen as an example of the theoretical and technological development that tries to improve the Internet giving more importance to users’ interests (and contents) than to commerce and marketing.
Besides, it is interesting for the discussion about the artist’s role in the market economies as well as in advertising and advertising dynamics. A role which implied the cooperation between art and advertising, and the way art used advertising for its own aims, thus subverting it. So advertising becomes a little tool in artists’ hands to spread the art message, in the spirit of cooperation and web sharing.
And to those who wonder “that’s a good idea, so when an AddArt for Exlporer?”, we can just asuggest that they should change browser.